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Elijah Cummings Dies At 68

Oct 17, 2019
Originally published on October 17, 2019 8:21 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Congressman Elijah Cummings has died at the age of 68 years old. A Democrat, he was widely admired as a principled leader both on Capitol Hill and in his hometown of Baltimore. Here he is talking at Morgan State University's commencement back in May.

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ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Each and every one of you are better and more valuable to our country because of the obstacles that you have faced and overcome. Everything that has happened to you up until this moment - good, bad and ugly - prepared you for this moment.

KING: Congressman Cummings was also one of the three chairmen leading the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis is on the line. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: So only 68 years old, and his death was unexpected. What do we know about what happened?

DAVIS: He has been sick for some time. He's been battling various numbers of health problems for years, starting back in 2017 when he had had heart surgery. He had been in a wheelchair in recent years. He was often seen on oxygen. He hadn't been on Capitol Hill for a number of weeks now, and we knew that he had been being treated for health problems, but we didn't know the severity of it. Overnight, the announce - his office announced that he had died in hospice care in his home city of Baltimore.

KING: This is a huge personal loss for his colleagues in Congress, and many of them have been talking about that this morning. It's also a loss to the work that Democrats are doing on Capitol Hill, with respect to oversight of the Trump administration and the impeachment investigation. How do you think his death will affect that work?

DAVIS: Well, he was one of the six chairmen at the beginning of the Congress who have been conducting oversight investigations into any number of reaches of the Trump administration and beyond. He had been one of the three chairmen tapped to oversee the impeachment inquiry. That work will continue. It has been spearheaded by the intelligence committee led by Adam Schiff.

On a practical level, Democrats are going to have to elect a new chairman for the oversight committee to continue the work there. That committee has vast jurisdiction over, essentially, every reach of the federal government. And under Cummings' tenure, they had been looking at any number of things beyond impeachment - things like the cost of prescription drugs, the treatment of immigrant children at the border, the use of vaping among children, on and on and on from there. So the work of that committee has been very high-profile, and that will continue as well.

KING: And I know you covered Congressman Cummings for years. What was he known for? How will people remember him?

DAVIS: Well, one thing I think people will remember was that voice, as you heard it in the intro.

KING: Yeah.

DAVIS: I mean, he was a booming voice in the Democratic Party in both metaphorically and literal ways. He was a very popular Democrat, and not just among Democrats. I would note that some of the first wave of reactions to his death that I've received this morning are from Republicans across the aisle who held him in very high regard. And he had many personal relationships in the Congress. He was a senior voice in the Congressional Black Caucus, a former chairman of the caucus.

He has a remarkable, truly only-in-America story. He was the son of sharecroppers who came to - his family moved to Baltimore seeking a better life. He was a proud Baltimorean, a fact which the president tried to use to attack him earlier this year. It didn't work so well. And he was a voice of conscience in the party, especially in this time in the Trump era.

Here is him talking at a February 2019 hearing with Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen.

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CUMMINGS: When we're dancing with the angels, the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?

DAVIS: I can say it's a very sad day on Capitol Hill.

KING: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Sue, thanks so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.